Wednesday, 15 October 2008

In•dex•a•ble difference

Documenting Live is a Live Art Development Agency publication containing postcards, filmed interviews and DVD documentation on 13 UK artists whose live practice explores issues of identity and cultural difference. The publication also includes 2 filmed roundtable discussions on the subject of marking blackness, and an essay entitled ‘Performance Based Art and the Racialised Body’ by curator David A Bailey. Each part of this publication has a distinct role to play. The DVD artist interviews, performance documentation clips and postcards archive a selection of UK artists from the 1990s and 2000s who are engaged in making culturally diverse live art. The essay and the roundtable discussions both set out historical lineages and contextual ground of UK live art and culturally diverse arts practice. They also touch upon issues of identity politics and visibility in the contentious act of documenting difference, and the live.

Image: ‘Haroldinho’
Harold Offeh, 2003 / C-Print photograph of live Performance, Rio de Janiero, Brazil

The 13 DVD clips show extracts of the 13 featured artists’ work and frank to-camera interviews that clearly situate the artist, their bodies, and their ethnicities for the viewer. The interviews focus upon how and why the live is used in each artist’s work, and what it means to them. Malika Booker talks intriguingly, amongst other things, of her audience as lover, ‘unpredictable and different every time’. The live enables her to engage in this mutual act of love. Yara El Sherbini uses the live in order to implicate the viewer and enable her to match form and content (enacting a traditional Pub Quiz in Pub Quiz series, for instance) in her socially engaged work. Harold Offeh talks about performing his work in order to embody risk, confront the audience and turn the focus onto the public reception of his work. Each of the 13 artists articulates performance and the live not as a form, or genre, but as utility and strategy: a means to enact (not act or perform) thinking and engage audiences to very specific and different social, political and artistic ends. Combined, their work highlights the sheer malleability and breadth of live art in all its guises and highlights the diversity of styles, content and concerns within culturally specific or diverse practice.

The two roundtable discussions show just what is at stake for the two different generations of artists included in Documenting Live. From the 1990s artists’ debate we get a real sense of alienation and isolation. When they were establishing themselves in the late 1970s and 1980s, these artists felt separate from mainstream culture but also from their contemporaries, whose culturally diverse practices were not visible, networked or archived as such. Sonia Boyce talks of only being able to find tribal art and African masks in the library when she was at art college in the West Midlands. Only by happening upon exhibitions by Frieda Kahlo at the Whitechapel, Eddie Chambers and other members of the soon to be BLK Art Group in Wolverhampton City Art Gallery, did she meet like-minded people and feel able to put autobiography to use in her work. MotiRoti and David Medalla have similar tales which circle the emotional, socio-political and artistic impact of a lack of representation and documenting of difference. Given this earlier lack of infra-structure for culturally diverse artists and practice in the UK, it is a wonder that these artists managed to find their way, and each other, and that the rest is history at all.

Image: ‘A Piece of Work’
Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, 2006 / Installation view, Camden Arts Centre, London, UK, as part of For One Night Only curated by Sonia Boyce / Photograph by Ben Roberts

In the younger artists’ discussion, there is a sense that the essential(ising) work concerning the inclusion of the racialised body in art has been done, and that these artists benefit from increased visibility and networks. But with this increased institutional brokerage of blackness comes the privilege of scepticism. These artists wrestled more with themselves, and their work, as being too over identified as culturally divergent or different. Robin Deacon talks of the pressures in being seen to make ‘black work.’ Offeh, El Sherbini and George Chakravarthi all discuss how their ethnicity is intrinsically politicised and stops other narratives being played out in the work. Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa incorporates these problematics of visibility into her work; ‘A Piece of Work’, 2006, for example, shows the artist installed behind a paper screen (with only her eyes and legs on show) in Camden Art Centre as visitors peruse surrounding paintings. Whereas, for Barby Asante, including herself in her live works such as ‘Wig Therapy’, 2001 is an acknowledgment that interacting with a black woman in British public places is still rare for a lot of people.

From these discussions it is clear just how archiving or documenting culturally diverse live art is an important but equally contentious act. Bailey touches on this contention from a theoretical stance in his essay when he says ‘visibility and positioning… of the black experience requires a critical framework that does not take for granted that it is all good.’ The critical framework Bailey is referring to is the writings of Paul Gilroy, Homi Bhabha and Pratibha Parmar, amongst others, whose postmodern thinking on the politics of difference represents a distinct shift away from confrontational modes concerning visibility and representation of Black identity. It was a shift which Stuart Hall (1992) clinched, by declaring ‘the end of the innocent notion of the essential Black subject’ Since then, these authors, and many other post colonial theorists, have done much to make the act of marking cultural difference and the representation of Blackness tantalisingly and indelibly fraught.

Image: ‘Whatever Happened to Colin Powell?’
Robin Deacon, 2006 / Photograph by Martin Clark, design by Robin Deacon

The specific act of documentation that Documenting Live completes becomes more loaded when twinned with live art and performance narratives. A year after Hall marked the ‘loss of innocence’ regarding the represention of Blackness, performance theorist Peggy Phelan voiced similar suspicion regarding visibility and the politics of the gaze. For Phelan (1993), the not seen or ‘the liminal’ was the only contingent, ethical subject position for marginalised people or the culturally different. The non-reproductive and ‘maniacally charged’ moment unique to performance, and performances’ subsequent disappearance, made the live a crucial factor in occupying this liminal state of cultural alterity. Any form of representation beyond this charged moment – whether in document, writing, photography or DVD – was, according to Phelan, borne of patriarchal, archival and commercial desires and was wounding to the ontology of performance. How then, within this combination of frameworks, to document cultural difference in live art?

Documenting Live answers this question by remaining difficult to locate, or liminal, with regards to these theoretical frameworks; it is self conscious about the problematics concerning the representation of blackness but at the same time openly performs a clear representational function. The readily accessible content of the interviews and postcards - full sized image on the front, artist’s biographies and written excerpts on the back - serve an all important promotional role for artists whose work, names and faces have hitherto remained relatively niche or missing from mainstream, commercial visual art fairs, magazines and galleries. The clear, broad chronological strokes of Bailey’s essay, grounded in practical examples, will be useful to relative newcomers to the combination of cultural difference and UK live art and performance practice. Combined, the DVD, essay and postcards can be easily assimilated into Higher Education, Libraries, Archives, Museums, used as teaching aid, visitor resource or research tool by professionals of all kinds.

This utility of Documenting Live is borne out of a practical recognition of the urgent need to complete past, present and future archaeology of culturally diverse live art practice; work that although hugely ‘productive’ remains relatively historically, institutionally, and commercially buried. The functionality is also in recognition of the plethora of specialist or academic treatises on post colonialism and performance; it is a deliberate move to filter these artists and their practice through funding, producing and teaching infrastructures on the ground level.

In this sense, Documenting Live is an important critical touchstone. It openly serves the pressing, practical and artistic needs of culturally diverse live art, but also demonstrates an acute self-awareness concerning the documenting of difference. In doing so, it renders the work accessible, ensuring that past, present and future (mis)readings of this practice might be possible, moreover indexeable, within contemporary culture.

Written by Rachel Lois Clapham

Hall, Stuart ‘New Ethnicities’. Originally published in Ten 8, ‘Black Experiences’ special issue, vol. 2, 1992. Reprinted in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, edited by David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 441-449. New York: Routledge, 1996

Phelan, Peggy. 1993. ‘The ontology of performance: representation without reproduction’ in Unmarked: The Politics of performance, Routledge: London and New York.

Documenting Live is produced by the Live Art Development Agency, the Curator is David A Bailey the Project Director is Rajni Shah. Artists: Barby Asante, Ansuman Biswas, Malika Booker, Sonia Boyce, George Chakravarthi, Robin Deacon, Yara El-Sherbini, Harminder Singh Judge, Keith Khan, David Medalla, Harold Offeh, Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, and Ali Zaidi. Available to buy online at

This text was originally written for
Culture Wars
and is reproduced here with permission.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Open Dialogues in ‘Without You it’s Nothing’ at Deptford X

Image; Spencer Tunick 2002, courtesy the artist and Deptford X.

‘Without You it’s Nothing’ at the 2008 Deptford X Festival, 11th October 2008, Creekside, London

In ‘Without You it’s Nothing’ the audience are invited to observe, participate and affect the process as participating artists strive to allocate, divide and give a cultural value to an exhibition fund of £500. Artists have all been invited to pitch for a handful of the money in order to realise an act independent of Deptford X. These moments are to be played out in the following days, creating their own subsequent events.

The panel aims to support the artists’ proposals, discuss merits of the pitches, explore parameters and award some cash. The members of the panel are in flux; they can change at any point of the day. We invite people visiting the exhibition to propose an idea, artwork or act in return for remuneration. Without You It’s Nothing does not attempt to steal the moment, but to capture the performance of the pitch and to ask if this instance is enough?

As a critical response to Without you It’s Nothing Rachel Lois, as Open Dialogues, approached the judging panel and pitched for £150 in order to develop a piece of critical writing on Without You It’s Nothing entitled Without you It’s Nothing*. The pitch performed the as yet unwritten text, outlining content, critical approach and the relationship of the writing to the other artworks in the show. An excerpt from the pitch:

“Without you It’s Nothing* is sympathetic to the latent state of the work in today’s exhibition, and aware of its own complicity in the show. Without You it’s Nothing* takes a speculative approach to what will come after today; who gets the money, if any of the work does get carried out, and by whom. The absence of work, and any attendant fictions and non-fictions, are treated equally seriously in the text.

The title Without You it’s Nothing* refers to today’s exhibition of the same name, and the artists here today, but also to its prospective readers, without whom the text would not exist as it does”

Rachel Lois initially priced the text at £150 excluding design, production and print publication. The proposal was awarded £15 on the condition that the monies would be used to pitch the text to an arts magazine or journal. The text remains unpublished.

Without You Its Nothing was presented by Collecting Live Art, curated by Laura Eldret and Paul Mart as part of the Deptford X arts festival 2008.

Ryoji Ikeda in Paris, Autumn 2008

Image: Ryoji Ikeda – data.tron
Photo: Kazuo Fukunaga (courtesy of Yamaguchi Center of Arts and Media)

There are some newly commissioned, large scale pieces by artist composer Ryoji Ikeda in Paris later this month. They look really interesting if you are in Paris for it let us know.

Ryoji Ikeda is an internationally acclaimed composer and artist who creates highly technologised installations that play with human perception. His concerts, installations and recordings integrate sound, acoustics and sublime imagery derived from pure mathematics and real-world data. Accompanied by video and graphics projected at cinematic scale in his concerts, Ikeda's compositions achieve synaesthetic effects as sound and image become almost indistinguishable, provoking an intensely physical experience.

Commissioned by the City of Paris, Ikeda's major new work spectra [paris] for Nuit Blanche, the City's annual 'white night' all-night contemporary arts festival, sees blinding white light beamed from scores of highly powered architectural lamps on the same plaza as Tour Montparnasse. Visitors' movements create a unique symphony of ultra pure sine soundwaves as they pass through the grid of white light. Nuit Blanche 2008 is directed by Herve Chandès and Ronald Chammah and presents over fifty projects in and around the stations and monuments of central Paris.

spectra [paris] precedes V≠L, Ikeda's first major solo exhibition in France, with three new works commissioned by Le Laboratoire in partnership with Festival d'Automne. Le Laboratoire is a new space dedicated to artist / scientist collaboration founded by Harvard Professor of ArtScience Innovation, David Edwards. These new works have evolved from Ikeda's close association with the Harvard mathematician and number theorist Benedict Gross.
At the Centre Pompidou in November, Ikeda performs datamatics [ver 2.0]. A full-length audiovisual concert using pure data as a source for sound and visuals, datamatics [ver 2.0] was originally co-commissioned by AV Festival 06, ZeroOne San Jose & ISEA 2006, co–produced by les Spectacles Vivants, Centre Pompidou and YCAM, and supported by Recombinant Media Labs.

"datamatics showed Ikeda at the height of his powers, building on his own unique and unmistakable artistic language." – The Wire, 2006

In December at the Grand Palais, he presents data.tron, an audiovisual installation in which every single pixel of video image is strictly calculated by mathematical principle and projected on a vast scale. data.tron was co-produced by Le Fresnoy and Forma. The installation forms a centrepiece of Dans la nuit, des Images, a group exhibition organised for the French presidency of the European Union and in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Le Fresnoy-Studio National des arts contemporains.

Ryoji Ikeda is represented by Forma.
Forma is supported by the English Arts Council.
spectra [paris] at Nuit Blanche, 4 –5 October 2008, 7 pm – 7 am
Place du 18 juin 1940, 75014 Paris

V≠L at Le Laboratoire, 11 October 2008 – 12 January 2009
Presented by Le Laboratoire in partnership with Festival d'Automne
4, rue du Bouloi, 75001 Paris

datamatics [ver.2.0] at Centre Pompidou, 21 – 22 November 2008, 8.30 pm
Co-presented by Les Spectacles Vivants-Centre Pompidou and Festival d'Automne
Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris

data.tron at Grand Palais, 18 – 31 December 2008
Presented by Le Fresnoy-Studio National des arts contemporains
Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris

Performance at London’s West End Galleries: All The Best

Image; Jiri Kovanda 'XXX Pressing myself as close as I can to the wall, I make my way around the whole room; There are people in the middle of the room, watching... November 26, 1977 Hradec Kralove' 1977, B&W photograph with text on paper, courtesy the artist, gb agency, Paris and Krobath Wimmer, Vienna

Open Dialogues continues to let you know when we think something interesting pops up in the world of time based, participatory and live art. This one night programme of actions ‘All The Best’ will coincide with a group of gallery openings in West End’s Fitzrovia (Alison Jacques, Pilar Correas, etc). There is a lot of new work by some interesting artists. See you there?


Gallery one one one - 111 Great Tichfield Street - W1W 6RY London
Thursday 16 October: 6.30 - 20.00

Gallery one one one/David Roberts Art Foundation is pleased to present an evening of actions and performances by internationally renowned artists Jiri Kovanda, Dora Garcia, Benoit Maire and Nina Beier and Marie Lund. The event, organised in collaboration with the Czech Centre, London, coincides with Beier and Lund's exhibition All the Best at Gallery one one one/David Roberts Art Foundation and major other events and openings in Fitzrovia.

All the Best is an evolving project by Danish artists Nina Beier and Marie Lund. Responding to the invitation of a solo exhibition, they decided to enter into a dialogue with other artists, asking them to swap their exhibited works for their own. All The Best is a solo exhibition gradually turning into a group show featuring Johanna Billing, Aurélien Froment, Dora Garcia, Cecilie Gravesen, Jacob Dahl Jürgensen, Chosil Kil, Jiri Kovanda, Benoît Maire, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Roman Ondak, Mario Garcia Torres and graphic design group Åbäke.

'As a response to the solo exhibition of our work at Gallery one one one/David Roberts Art Foundation, we have invited artists that we feel related to, know and have shown with before to replace each of our works over the course of the exhibition. By picking up on these relations built over time with people we have previously been put in context with, we wish to operate from within the structure of the group exhibition and open up for a collective process in the forming of the show.

Adapting to the format of the exhibition put together by curator Vincent Honoré, placing the new work in the same spot, on the same plinths, nails etc, the final group show will carry the traces of the first show. All decisions will be taken locally relating to the exchange of each piece and it will be assembled from the inside without regard for the overall. This way the final group exhibition will not end up as a full curatorial rendition of the initial solo exhibition, but rather as a series of discussions. Through this rough translation we seek to take the focus to the intentions behind, not just the curation, but also each work presented.' Nina Beier and Marie Lund